Ockeghem: Missa Caput; Gregorian Chant / Graindelavoix

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OCKEGHEM Missa Caput. anonymous Mandatum antiphons ? Björn Schmelzer, dir; Graindelavoix ? GLOSSA P 32101 (58:52)

This is a remarkable disc, quite unlike most of the rival issues. Despite the attention paid to the three ?Caput? Masses (an anonymous English work long attributed to Dufay, Obrecht?s, and this one), this Mass has rarely been recorded. Alejandro Planchart recorded all three Masses; then Edward Wickham (22:5) included this one in his complete traversal of Ockeghem for his quincentenary; and Guy Janssens included the work in a sizable traversal of Renaissance polyphony, soon to be reviewed.

Inserted among the movements of the Mass are six antiphons for the foot washing ritual observed on Holy Thursday. The first is ?Mandatum novum,? still found in modern liturgical books. This is the text (?A new commandment I give you, that you love one another?) that gives the day its name (?maundy? being a corruption of ?mandatum,? like Bedlam for Bethlehem, maudlin for Magdalen, and tawdry for St. Audrey). The series concludes with ?Venit ad Petrum,? which ends with the long melisma on ?caput? (?not only my feet but also my hands and my head ?) that forms the cantus firmus of these three Masses. As it happens, these six antiphons are exactly the set found in the 13th-century Sarum Gradual (facsimile 1894, Gregg reprint 1966), though they are also found in Rouen, Paris, and St. Martial. It was Manfred Bukofzer?s discovery of this overlooked source that led to his identification of the origin of the cantus firmus in his celebrated article, ?Caput: a Liturgico-Musical Study? in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music . (The source later reinforced the identification of the composer of the original Mass as anonymous English rather than Dufay.) The chant is rendered with the ?flowers? (hence florid singing) that Mother Thomas More (Mary Berry) described in her 1968 dissertation on late medieval chant, ?The Performance of Plainsong in the Later Middle Ages and the 16th Century.? Very few recordings of chant have adopted this practice. I alluded to florid chant in my review of Marcel Pérès?s Josquin des Prez (10:3), pointing out that Jerome of Moravia called for ?flowers? only on the first two notes, the last two notes, and plicas. Yet here, as in Pérès?s practice, the singing of most notes is florid. I can?t recall another recorded example of this in the intervening two decades.

Hence, this disc is a major contribution to our appreciation of the ?Caput? Masses. It should not be a first choice for Ockeghem, but it will repay close study. Schmelzer writes of singing the Mass a fourth lower than written, suiting his all-male ensemble. Yet Planchart and Wickham, using mixed voices, sing a whole tone lower than this, though Planchart uses only instruments on the bass line (Janssens is only a half-tone higher than this). The tonal weight of his ensemble is in the bass, as if a drone has been added to the polyphony. It?s also the slowest of the four performances. The layout of the disc is an accommodation to variety, the antiphons alternating with the Mass movements, but it is not useful, in spite of the connection between the final antiphon and the Mass from which it draws its cantus firmus. The foot washing ritual never took place during Mass until 1970, and the antiphons would not be scattered through the Mass in any case. Give it a chance, though, for such thoughtful work doesn?t come along every day.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: GCDP32101

  • UPC: 8424562321014

  • Label: Glossa

  • Composer: Anonymous, Johannes Ockeghem

  • Conductor: Björn Schmelzer

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Graindelavoix